As Venezuela's economy has spun out of control amid hyperinflation, oil has become an even more important financial crutch for President Nicolas Maduro's bankrupt socialist government, which has resorted to issuing IOUs to vendors in order to stockpile what little hard currency trickles in from oil exports.
As of June 6, over 80 tankers were waiting in Venezuelan waters, half of them to load crude and refined products for exports, according to the data.
In April, PDVSA shipped 1.49-million barrels a day of crude and fuels to its customers, 665,000 barrels a day below the 2.15-million contracted, according to the documents.
One of PDVSA's Indian customers confirmed it had received a request to load its cargoes via ship-to-ship transfers. The measure also has been taken to avoid further cargo seizures, after Conoco won temporary court orders retaining two vessels near Aruba last month.
Another buyer of Venezuelan oil said chances were slim that any customer would contest force majeure, choosing instead to negotiate differences in pricing because of the transfer costs involved.
PDVSA in recent weeks had requested several customers accept this new ship-to-ship methodology for loading, but most refused due to the lack of a third party supervising the operations.
While attacking the U.S. for infiltrating the oil industry, Maduro told PDVSA workers to start a production "revolution" at the state oil company.
These transfers require specialized equipment, handling by specialists and facilitated by mooring masters, according to a provider of the service.
In January-April, crude output fell to 1.62 million bpd, the lowest annual average in over three decades.
The company's proposed STS transfer solution, to be performed in waters 6 miles (9.7 km) from Venezuela's Cardon refinery, faces a reluctant reception among oil buyers, according to shippers and traders. Venezuela's crude exports in the first five months of 2018 were 27 percent lower than in the same period of 2017. The captain of the receiving tanker also has to be trained to perform the operation, a shipper said. "The question is who will take responsibility for that", said Robert Campbell, head of oil products markets at consultancy Energy Aspects.
It has separately begun notifying all its customers that it will no longer receive new tankers for loading at Jose or Paraguana, its main export terminals, until ships already in line are served. The move would allow large vessels to be loaded from tankers temporarily used by PDVSA for storage, the source added.
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